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5 Questions for Tom Russell on Building an FP&A Team

  • By Bryan Lapidus, FP&A
  • Published: 7/27/2018

careerpathTom Russell, FP&A, is the CFO of Fresh Products and a bit of a (work) adrenaline junkie. He has been attracted to high growth companies and situations throughout his career. “I love dynamic environments that are constantly changing,” he said. “Change is what makes business fun and interesting. I’ve had the most success and longest tenure at organizations pursuing high growth strategies.”

Russell is a member of AFP’s FP&A Advisory Council, and a self-described “Math Fool.” What is the story there? “I was a math major in college and some people said it was a foolish choice of major compared to economics or business, so the name Math Fool became my fraternity nickname,” he said. “I actually gave it to myself after some good-natured teasing and I still use it in my e-mail address.”

Through his experiences in building out the finance function in multiple organizations, he has several thoughts on how to do this well, which he shared in this interview:

If you were a beginning FP&A analyst today, what skills would you pursue and how would you get them?

“Big data is more important now than when I started my career in FP&A almost 20 years ago. In years past collecting the data and organizing it absorbed the majority of work for someone in accounting and finance. Now technology has advanced where access to data is taken for granted, even in smaller organizations. Knowing how to analyze data without suffering information overload is of greater importance.”

How would you build an FP&A team today? What skills and attributes would you include?

“Strong technical skills and strong analytical skills are important, along with the ability to communicate and relate to others. The size and structure of the team depends on the organization, but I like to focus each team member on a process task, geography, or software tool, to build expertise and add value to the organization.”

Where should finance focus—getting the basics right, or jumping on the emerging trends?

“You always need to focus on the basics first. Crawl before you can walk, walk before you can run. Close the books on time, produce useful, relevant reports, achieve good forecast accuracy. Once those are done you can do bigger and better things.”

How does finance build credibility with senior management and business units?

“Finance can build credibility by delivering actionable insights that lead to demonstrable improvements in the business, and identifying issues early before they become large problems.”

How do you attract and hire the right people for your organization?

“People don’t want to come to work just to make more money for someone else. They want to have a sense of belonging, driving toward a larger vision. It’s important to sell employees on your vision for your team, and how that relates to the larger organization. It can be implementing new financial tools, supporting growth, generating new insights – whatever it is, the vision bonds the team together and is something they can look back on years after moving on from your organization.”

Russell will speak at AFP 2018, November 4-7, in Chicago on, “Forecasting During Rapid Growth.” Learn more at www.AFP2018.org

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